This article originally appeared in Food Manufacturing's May/June 2015 print edition.
The Food Manufacturing Brainstorm features industry experts sharing their perspectives on issues critical to the overall food industry marketplace.
In part one of this five-part series, we ask: What are the latest trends in conveying related to the food industry?
Crystal Willey, Director of Market and Business Development, Cambridge Engineered Solutions, answered:
There are several trends we’re seeing among manufacturers in key food processing categories where conveyor belts are commonly used. Many larger companies are shutting down smaller plants and making significant capital investments in regional “mega” plants. When our customers build these new plants, they are looking to install lines with conveyors and belts that are wider, faster and capable of increased throughput to make up for what was produced at the smaller plants.
Changes are also occurring with packaging processes. Many of our customers are getting away from containers and moving toward pouches. Belts must still support and move product along the line, but they need to be as open as possible so the pouches can be cooled, chilled or frozen.
Manufacturers of all sizes are looking at their floor footprint and applying the latest Manufacturing Footprint Optimization concepts to develop unique solutions that allow them to push as much product as possible out the door. Bakeries, in particular, are investing in cageless spiral systems that can be built around plant columns to maximize previously unusable space.
Increasingly, customers are looking for belts that don’t require a lot of maintenance. Whether it’s the system or the belt itself, they are more conscious about quality and they want belts that are easy to clean so they don’t need to be removed. With increased automation and reduced labor resources, no one wants a belt that only lasts a week. As a result, we’re finding that manufacturers are willing to invest more on the front end to purchase higher quality belt products.
For a time, plastic belts were popular because they were lower in cost, but there has been a real resurgence in metal belts. Much of it pertains to concerns with bacteria entrapment and product contamination. Plastic belts often need to be removed and soaked overnight. With stainless belts, you can use a high-pressure wash with chemicals to easily clean them. Metal belts also work well for plants that process multiple types of food products.